One of the happy rediscoveries of painting on the sidewalk and in the alley around my house is how transitory and unstable even the most mundane, unremarkable view can be.
One day the neighbor’s back gate is open so I can see all the way down the gangway between houses to the next street. When I go back out there again, the gate is closed. Roughly a fifth of my painting is what I can see past that closed gate. Do I paint in the wooden slats where the walk and steps were or leave it as is?
Unlike a photograph, a painting always acknowledges and often incorporates the passage of time. There’s no way not to grapple with change if for no other reason than standing outside the light will change from minute to minute. There are artists, of course, who go outside only to gather information for reproducing some ideal picture in their heads. I have nothing in mine so I depend on what comes in through my eyes.
I’m not saying I’m a machine coldly recording and reproducing whatever crosses its path. Hardly. Only that the subject-matter always comes from without rather than within. Once a place is chosen, there are endless choices to make, and each one taken negates dozens of others. I can’t claim any sort of objectivity or impartiality, but if I do my thing right, other people will see something they recognize in my pictures. This is as true with the collages as these plein-air streetscapes.
Aside from the stray dumpster diver, dogwalker, or illegal construction trash dumper, I don’t have many personal interactions in the alley. The people who go there don’t often want to socialize. The alley is about doing business away from prying eyes. Half the people who went past my easel don’t even acknowledge my presence.
The front walk is a different story. The neighbor across the street waves and yells out that my painting looks great, even though he hasn’t seen it. Some dogwalkers will cross the street when they see me out there; others will let their pets sniff around. The guy next door whose yard is filled with bikes he refurbishes and sells always says hello. I don’t know what he thinks of what I’m doing. Whether he thinks about it at all.
Being out there reconnects me with something I didn’t know I missed. Stepping out of my house and trying to catch a bit of what it’s like to live on this street at this time gives me a sense of belonging. It makes me appreciate the roof over my head and even the sun burning my face. Lets me know that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.
A talk with Matt Grimm about his quarter-life crisis and with Mallory about Alien.
If you wanna buy one of the recent paintings done around my house, they’re up in my store.